all heard the idea… get some lemons… make lemonade. (Ha ha… make
some lemonade. Because of course it’s just that easy
to make the best of any given situation.)
what do you do when you make some plans for your lemons, and then
life takes those?
number of events have me thinking deeply about life and the future
and all of the crazy dips and dives and twists and turns we each
face. But I don’t want to head too deeply into the waters right
now. Instead, I’ll start with a funny story. Then, we’ll kick
around the economy and the president in considering these lemons.
you know what a kookaburra is? Might be important. And, this story
comes primarily from my mother. Not my sister. You should know
that too. Ok… story time…)
sister lives in Australia. And out in her yard, she has discovered,
is a lemon tree.
discovery was made when, a short time ago, a lemon began growing
on the tree. So the tree itself may or may not be a fruit tree…
may or may not be an actual lemon tree… but in the grandest tradition
of waddling, quacking, and being yellow…
understanding is a debate was soon bouncing around her home… three
kids, one husband, and herself… what to do with a lemon.
well… what would you do with a single lemon? Use it with some
seafood? Add it to a drink or two? Make some lemonade? Decisions…
about ready to pick. It’s not going to last the day. In a few
hours, my sister would head out there and collect her prize… the
delightful lemon she had watched grow and considered for so long.
few hours after last checking in, she looked outside, and… the
lemon was gone!
on the ground, a kookaburra was playing with a slightly bruised,
slightly splattered prize. It had… in all likelihood… knocked
the precious fruit from the tree, pretty much literally from my
the reality of the situation is simple… I didn’t present you with
a story about my sister and a lemon to provide the most accurate
and detailed telling of the events. Otherwise I would have done
some research and contacted her about the lemon to find out what
may really have transpired. Instead… it’s a set up. Her story
is far too literal, and a bit funny. Her lemon wasn’t a bad lemon.
It was simply to get you thinking of that fancy twist…
all heard the concept… when life is making things difficult and
rough, make the best out of it and move on.
I wonder what happens when life doesn’t offer you the possibilities
of looking at the bright side. What happens when things are just
bad? What happens when things just seem to keep getting worse?
Mendez will likely never see this essay of mine. But this morning
I find myself wondering what she thinks of her
collection of lemons. (Link no longer active. Was with
The Providence Journal.)
started her own business in Rhode Island more than two decades
ago. And I would imagine that when I tell you what her business
is, you will see the beginnings of some of those lemons without
much additional information.
had a travel agency.
you got it… one of those lemons is the internet. (Didn’t take
you long to do that.) People make their own travel plans now…
clicking around, comparing prices, and making reservations without
a thought of hopping in the car and visiting a local agent.
friend of mine used to work as a travel agent. I can still recall
slightly over ten years ago when she was on a roll about internet
reservations and mercilessly slamming the system. One of her laughing
points was former clients… ones that had left while telling her
the cost was just too high compared to what they were finding
on-line… calling her while on vacation because their bargain priced,
so easy to make, internet and faceless reservations had problems
and they couldn’t contact a sole from those companies to help
story is about Mercedes though, and I need to get back on track.)
internet is only one lemon though.
lemon for her? Families and individuals lacking discretionary
funds for vacations. Hey… when the cost of a pizza or a gallon
of milk goes up… when the gas tank on the car needs to be filled…
when the credit card interest rates are rising… when the cost
of daily life is becoming more expensive dollar by dollar, and
also nickel by nickel… priorities take over. Fewer vacation travel
plans… fewer clients for a travel agency.
girl can make a few pitchers of lemonade out of these ingredients.
is… see... Mercedes got a few more lemons.
as the internet was probably pulling away regular clients and
as the belt-tightening households turned to day trips… local excursions…
a focus on affording the bills at home and less on an adventure…
entities began knocking on her business door, turning to her so
she could give what they deemed to be her fair share to the difficulties
we are all facing. Ok… those are my words… but we’ve all heard
politicians talking about getting through this together, and times
being hard and filled with sacrifice, and costs rising. Right?
a problem though… and I’ll get away from Mercedes for just a second
to give you an example. When car companies can make more fuel
efficient vehicles, why don’t they? There’s a lot to the answer
that addresses that question. A lot of investigation into government
regulations or the cost of research and development or blah-blah-blah.
But the reality is… as always seems to be the case… follow the
hearing in the past few days that there may be moves to increase
required fuel efficiency levels for companies. I’m more than a
bit skeptical though.
any of you really believe that gas companies whole-heartedly want
to find answers so we stop buying gas?
any of you really believe politicians are voting purely on the
best interests of those that elected them, when companies are
donating millions to their individual campaign funds?
Give it a few minutes and consider it. Sure… in their investigations…
one of these companies might just develop a fuel source of the
future. Might. But if you sell gas… and make your money selling
gas… well, two ideas, you tell me: (1) Are you dedicating your
resources to alternative fuels because you want to kill your golden
goose? Or, (2) are you investigating alternative fuels in case
someone else kills your golden goose?
I am saying is simple. People say things all the time that they
don’t really mean. They know what they are supposed to say… public
relations and political correctness and so on. That doesn’t mean
what they say is actually what they mean… feel… believe. (Or…
did you hear something that I didn’t about members of Congress
having their medical plans overhauled when the new health care
was voted on?)
to Mercedes and her lemons. Two quotes from the article…
city needs to collect at least $307 million from taxes to maintain
services and pay its planned expenses this fiscal year, which
began July 1. Mayor Angel Taveras also inherited a $110-million
structural deficit, which he plans to eradicate with a ‘shared
says she recovered from difficult economic cycles before, but
even with ‘a strong faith,’ she says, ‘There’s no hope. When
is it going to end?...’ Politicians and all their taxes are
further destroying small business when ‘we’re the ones who support
the economy,’ she said.”
I am not trying to say that government shouldn’t be exploring
ways to raise revenue and cut expenses, even when that means increased
costs and reduced service levels. The concept of a shared pain
is understood. What I am saying is that this isn’t some new thing.
Most people I know have been fighting reduced incomes and increasing
bills for years… and many have been in pain for a while.
~ ~ ~
of you have heard that the United States was downgraded by Standard
& Poor’s. And the big question becomes… so what?
& Poor’s is a company that researches and analyzes financial
areas, in particular stocks and bonds. Without going too deeply
into the difference between AAA (where the United States was rated)
and AA+ (where the United States now is rated) and anything like
CCC (which has nothing to do with the United States, but is another
rating from Standard & Poor’s)… the big thing to know is this:
essentially reflect reliability and stability. The higher (or
stronger) the rating, the more the financial commitment is seen
as secure and, effectively, risk free.
people are critical of the reduction Standard & Poor’s gave
the United States on August 5, 2011. And, several are critical
of Standard & Poor’s in general, as well as other companies
that offer similar services and ratings.
fact… funny side note… China, one of the main critics of US policy
in this whole ball of fun, has a lower rating than the United
States. I know… great stuff.)
you want to look at AAA and AA+, and wonder what that might mean
to you since both grades seem quite good, you wouldn’t be alone.
What you really need to grasp is simple enough: The finances of
America are not viewed today as being as reliable and stable as
they were a week ago. (At least by how we were rated on those
particular past days.) And while Standard & Poor’s (and other
companies) may not be the indicator you want to use, the reality
is that countries around the world are wondering about that reliable
and stable as always concept.
(well, perhaps amazingly)… AAA… AA+… I don’t know that the situation
of the rating is the big thing. And I don’t know if the trustworthiness
of the messenger matters. Dad and I exchanged some e-mails recently,
and I thought I’d share some of it with you. Sort of more lemony-fresh
material for your consideration as we head to wrapping this effort
have left this material fairly intact to the way the e-mails went,
both in content and order of being sent. Look for Dad
in blue and me in
red. (For no particular reason other than I thought
blue and red would work nicely.) Keep in mind it isn’t supposed
to fit into some particular flow, and it isn’t supposed to explain
15 months to go but he has got to do something or he
is cooked. What has happened tonight is a stain on
the USA and his Presidency. He is the first President to ever
have the bond rating lowered.
is… who is running against him? Palin? Because as of right now,
she’s as good as anyone the Republicans have. (And, the only
one to kind of stay on the outside so far.)
got it. I saw a professor from Virginia, Larry Sabato, on yesterday.
He said that Obama is trailing in 6 of 10 states he carried
before and is now almost tied in the other 4. He is losing in
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, and we all know you have to
win two of those three. He cannot win today according to him
but he said we don't know who is going to run against Obama
and that is how Obama can still win.
who the heck is he losing to? Numbers and predictions today
mean very little to me. Remember, predictions in 2008 about
who would win really didn’t even have Obama running as the official
nominee until five months before the election. Fifteen months
before that election, ahead of the primaries, Obama wasn’t known
in most homes across the country and was on the fringes of not
even being a viable candidate. In the past twenty years we’ve
heard that the first George Bush was unbeatable, the second
George Bush couldn’t win (either time), and that Bob Dole was
ready to take charge in America.
went around to a few web sites with some international flavor,
and the reality seems two-fold.
the true impact of the reduction can’t be predicted just yet.
The cry for media reaction demands people say right now they
know what will happen, but they don’t. People aren’t taking
loans out yet under the rating reduction, and it honestly may
not affect the everyday lives of people all that much. (Absolutely
it’s true it likely raises rates, but rates move all the time.
This isn’t some 10% swing we’re talking about where mortgages
will be at 18% and car loans near 24%. Instead of car loans
and mortgages (most of which people get at fixed rates these
days and rarely variable), I’d be more concerned right now that:
(1) It sounds like another reduction of the US rating could
happen in about twelve to fifteen months. And, (2) what will
this do to the banks and rates on things like credit cards or
any interest rates, which are already insanely flipping around?)
the international scene… where Obama was so praised and hailed
as a breath of fresh air and step in the direction of American
progress… is making fun of this and calling it a black eye.
Personally… the same way most people have zero clue about 401k
investing and stuff like that… I think most people have no clue
what a lowered rating actually means. And even if they read
articles with fancy titles like “The US rating lowered: what
it means to you” they still will have no idea what it means
to them. But… in my typical, naïve, just giving
it a sniff test approach… we are two-plus years into Obama’s
“recovery” (meaning his term in office), and if international
communities are shaking their heads people don’t need to understand
it. That’s bad news.
something for you… forget the lower rating. Did you hear the
job news today? Anyone believe the hundred-thousand-plus are
good jobs? Most places I know were predicting way below that
figure, some less than half of what was announced. And, of course,
sniff test cynic I am, all I can recall is last year when the
temporary census job numbers were included in rising employment
figures. All I keep seeing is reports about companies refusing
to investigate growth or mass hirings, often at least noting
that the unpredictability of government actions (taxes, safety
and other regulations, medical costs) are part of the reason.
And, debt deal fun the latest, the government goes right out
and proves that the companies not acting are looking pretty
sensible for not trusting the government. Again, lowered rating…
I get it can hurt… I’m more concerned about everything else
swirling in the tub around that.
said the same thing to Mom, somebody inserted numbers or played
with them. The estimate I saw was that they would not hit their
hoped for 85,000 and that was as late as 8pm Thursday night.
Sure seemed funny that they beat it and by so much.
~ ~ ~
financial mess… looks like we’ve still got one.
two years ago, it was a medical debate. I wrote an article called
health care reform on hold… because Obama’s new Washington can’t
be trusted to do it right”… and here’s part
of what I said about Washington back then:
this has turned into a game of push and shove. Who can yell
the loudest… who can defend positions they don’t seem to understand,
but don’t want to look like a fool by changing their mind (and
looking exactly like a fool when they do)… and all sorts of
other assorted hilarities and oddities. We’ve got members of
Congress yelling at the public… we’ve got the public yelling
at members of Congress. And nothing is getting done. Welcome
to the new Washington. (Same as the old Washington.)”
don’t kid yourself. Washington hasn’t really changed… not yet
anyway. This is the same finger-pointing, back-biting, positioning
oneself for the future at the risk of the present politics we’ve
been given over and over and over again. So as our country had
so many people celebrating the arrival of change… it appears
to me those people conveniently are forgetting that change is
more than a word, it requires actual action and, you know, change…
perhaps this health care subject may finally set people off
enough to toss all of these people out and really bring about
a new Washington.”
here is what I said about our president:
don’t mind Barack Obama… the person. (I hate resorting to the
easy joke, but so be it. He strikes me as the kind of guy you’d
like to meet up with for a beer. I know… I know… but look for
the imagery in the sentiment and not the history.) He’s well
spoken, incredibly personable, and has a wide and diverse range
of interests and passions. Long story short, I find him to be
real and authentic in an arena far too often filled with fake
and created personas. But understand, again, that is as a person.
As a president I believe that so far he has demonstrated an
amazing lack of experience and incredibly flawed reasoning.”
me the truth… what have you seen since 2009? That was when I offered
that I saw things as “an amazing lack of experience and incredibly
flawed reasoning” from our president. Do recent events show a
take charge, can do, hope is turning to reality leadership in
Washington? (And keep in mind… I didn’t care what political party
is involved. In that article I said about Washington as a complete
political entity: “Honestly… it’s amazing how incompetent the
whole group looks.”)
out what Margery Eagan had to say about
President Obama on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 (Boston Herald
link, no longer active):
don’t believe he’s lying. I do think he’s rudderless and scared,
which makes me petrified.”
in 2010, I had a funny take on President
Obama and Las Vegas:
keep in mind… this isn’t the first time Obama has said something
he later regretted. If it was, you might be even more willing
to let it slide and consider it nothing more than a crazy oops.
But ask Special Olympics… ask police officers in Massachusetts…
ask travel and tourism representatives in Las Vegas if they
believe Obama is aware of what he’s saying (or if he’s learned
his lessons about it from past errors).”
is repeating itself folks.
believe me? Ok… here’s one
from April of 2010…
simple, basic approach… without much digging or research… says
that the money has to come from some place. It could be door
number one… door number two… or door number three. The one thing
that’s certain in my mind though is that the government… in
claiming we’re going to save money doing this… simply hasn’t
revealed which door involves us reaching for our wallets.”
~ ~ ~
where are we? With our lemons, that is…
all lemons are bad. Some work wonderfully with scallops or shrimp,
and can make or add to a tasty and refreshing beverage. By the
same concept… change is not always bad. It can lead to new things…
new experiences… and positive results.
Can be. Unexpected? Often, yes. Difficult? Sure.
not always bad.
idea of retelling the Mercedes story… where in the words and thoughts
of the article and also through my own interpretation of conditions…
was for us to explore scenarios where the lemon-situation couldn’t
even be considered. There was no positive spin… there was no challenge
or recovery option… there wasn’t a chance to make lemonade. The
kookaburra had swept through before the lemon could even be picked.
happens when those taking away the lemons refuse to acknowledge
the missing lemons… instead looking to blame others for why the
lemons are missing?
happens when life gives you lemons… and then takes those lemons